Jun 7, 2014

Towers Open Fire




In terms of cinematic works that come closest to encapsulating alpha-Beat writer William S. Burroughs’ oftentimes discordant, formless, and innately anarchic literary style, you probably cannot do better than the short films of British auteur Antony Balch (Secrets of Sex aka Bizarre, Horror Hospital), who collaborated with the yank junky writer on a couple experimental shorts during the 1960s and was even originally supposed to direct a feature-length adaptation of Naked Lunch (1959) starring Mick Jagger, but rather unfortunately, fate had different plans. With his first major cinematic collaboration with Burroughs, Towers Open Fire (1964), Balch was the first person in the world to introduce the novelist’s ‘cut-up technique’ to cinema, so at least in that regard, this less than 10 minute long avant-garde short is a cinematically revolutionary work, if only a minor one that will probably baffle most cinephiles. Shot between 1961 and 1962 in Paris and Gibraltar, Towers Open Fire premiered at the London Pullman Cinema in 1966 alongside Tod Browning's Freaks (1932) of all films (actually, Balch, who was originally a film distributor, is the man responsible for getting the ban lifted off of Freaks in the UK). Although the short is a mostly incoherent work of cut-up metacinema set in a predictably Burroughs-esque dystopian world, it is mandatory viewing for fans of Burroughs, who not only stars in the film, but says some ironically ‘racist’ things, gives a very quick demonstration on how to do a ‘cut-up,’ wanders around while smoking fags as if he is cruising for young fags, shoots some junk, and becomes the victim of an orgasm attack, among other delightfully decadent things. Naturally, the short also features footage of avant-garde painter Brion Gysin’s dreamachine invention. Gysin, who introduced Burroughs to the cut-up technique (which was originally utilized by Dadaist artists), came up with the idea for a ‘drugless high’ of sorts via a stroboscopic flicker effect that creates visual stimuli, with the dreamachine ultimately being the invention he created to achieve this pseudo-psychedelic effect. Beginning with a seemingly unrelated image of director Antony Balch’s lifelong hero Bela Lugosi, Towers Open Fire is a short but sweet trip of the apocalyptic sort that demonstrates why the largely forgotten filmmaker would have probably made for a more apt director for adapting Naked Lunch than David Cronenberg. 



 After seeing a picture of Bela Lugosi looking typically eccentrically sinister, the viewer is treated to a delightful little monologue by William S. Burroughs, who sardonically states in his typically monotone fashion: “Kid—what are you doing over there with the niggers and the apes? Why don't you straighten out and act like a white man? After all, they're only human cattle, you know that yourself. I hate to see a bright young man fuck up and get off on the wrong track — sure it happens to all of us one time or another. Why the man who went on to invent Shitola was sitting right where you're sitting now twenty-five years ago when I was saying the same thing to him — Well, he straightened out same as you're going to straighten out. You can't deny your blood kid — You're white, white, white — And you can't walk out on life times change there's just no place to go.” Notably, Burrough’s little monologue was taken from his cut-up novel The Soft Machine (1961) and it reminded me why the writer's most racially-charged writing tends to be his most hilarious. The excerpt from The Soft Machine is juxtaposed with a headshot of Burroughs, who looks like a half-autistic WASP degenerate, which was more or less what the novelist was, but that is also what makes him so interesting, as a man who more or less embodied Spengler’s theory of decline (after all, Burroughs’ grandfather was a pioneer who invented the adding machine, yet Burroughs himself invented the ‘word virus’ and shot his wife in the head, among countless other things). 



 In the next scene, Burroughs appears as the head of a corporate board meeting and by the end of the film, all the board members will be vaporized into oblivion, as if the novelist infiltrated their little group solely so he could destroy them (of course, this is a rather typical Burroughs fantasy). Juxtaposing images of exotic masks that resemble something out of a Steven N. Arnold film (The Liberation of the Mannique Mechanique, Luminous Procuress), a guy masturbating in bed, as well as countless grimy film reel canisters, to the less than soothing sounds of Burroughs mumbling gibberish (apparently, these noisy sound clips were recorded on a cheap Grundig tape recorder), the short gives off a feeling of oppressive audio/visual overload, as if the viewer is being forced to endure the junky queer novelist's various neuroses. After demonstrating the cut-up technique via a newspaper, the film features a crude cut-up montage of Burrough’s walking around and spouting nonsense, as if he is a disgruntled old man who cannot think of anything practical to complain about. As demonstrated by a quick shot of a newspaper headline reading “Stock Exchange Suspend Dealings,” Towers Open Fire depicts a materialistic society on the brink of collapse and naturally Burroughs is quite excited by the prospect, as demonstrated by the fact that he begins waging a lone-wolf war via aesthetic terrorism (i.e. cut-up sound recordings). After a scene featuring Burroughs hanging out at a zoo and checking out some large birds, the novelist discusses the dreamachine while young wild boys get high off the flickering light. In between shots of spinning dreamachines, Burroughs shoots some junk into his arm, as it would not be a Burroughs flick without someone shoving a needle into their flesh. In one of the most climatic scenes of the film, Burroughs, who is in military fatigues (including a gas mask), shows up at a dilapidated old house and proceeds to shoot ping pong balls at old family photos, thus causing people to magically evaporate outside on the street. Indeed, in the end, civilization as we know it ends and everyone evaporates, except a Wild Boy and the Führer of the Wild Boys, Burroughs, who is featured in the final scene waving his ping-pong gun in a shockingly militant fashion, as if the writer somehow managed to develop a deep sense of testicular fortitude after wiping out humanity. 



 Featuring Moroccan music (which was apparently recorded by Brion Gysin), shameless Bela Lugosi fanboy worship, William S. Burroughs of all people telling the viewer how to be a white man, and a small storm of incoherent cut-up degeneracy, Towers Open Fire is certainly a curious little slice of celluloid insanity that barely gives any sort of hint regarding what kind of filmmaker Antony Balch would eventually evolve into (he is best known nowadays for his campy horror-comedy Horror Hospital (1973)). Balch and Burroughs would collaborate on a couple more shorts films, including Guerrilla Conditions (uncompleted), The Cut-Ups (1967), Bill and Tony aka Who’s Who (1972), as well as two posthumously released works, William Buys a Parrott (1963) and Ghosts at Number 9 (2005) aka Ghosts at Number 9 (paris), but I have to admit that Towers Open Fire is easily my favorite, as a work that, somewhat strangely, seems to have infinite replay value. Like the out-of-control celluloid monster of a mad cinematic scientist, the short ultimately demonstrated to me that the whole cut-up technique seems more effective in film as opposed to novel form. As someone who has personally attempted to endure some of Burroughs’ cut-up novels and was rather disappointed (to say the least!), Towers Open Fire proved to me that the technique is more than just a pretentious gimmick used by a junky with a confused opium-addled mind who lacks the mental coherence to write anything even remotely linear. In Balch’s short, the technique ultimately creates a sort of apocalyptic poetry that, if nothing else, would make for great recruitment material for prospective Wild Boys. 



-Ty E

17 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Back to the British and faggots again eh, somehow i knew the magic wouldn`t last for long.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The ONLY rea-daughter Burroughs was a degenerate was because he was a faggot, not for anything else, although shooting his wife was totally unacceptable of course, if he`d shot some of his loathsome odious faggot friends instead he would`ve redeemed himself ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Balch would`ve become a British version of Gus Van Sant (just like that other Limey faggot scumbag Derek Jar-girl) which doesn`t bear thinking about, does it ! ! !. DIRTY QUEER FILTH, DESTROY THEM ALL, NOW ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In Atom Egoyans latest film "Devils Knot" it really gets on my nerves how that Limey idiot Colin Firth has been given star billing over Reece Witherspoon, American actors and actresses should ALWAYS get star billing over British Limey filth, actually the Limeys shouldn`t even be in the films to begin with, the rotten bastards.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Burroughs at the zoo with some large birds ! ! !, sounds like he was surrounded by a group of lushious 17 year-old Pauline Hickey look-a-likes...WOW... although they would`ve been wasted on him of course, the bloody dirty queer pervert.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, just with regards to your description of what Burroughs does in the last few lines of the 3rd paragraph, i often have a similar fantasy about killing all the faggots in the entire world and then retiring to a south sea island with Heather O`Rourke for an eternity of endless sexual pleasure and debauchery with THE most stunningly beautiful little girl who ever lived.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, just with regards to the picture of Burroughs in the boardroom with his subordinates reading what look like witchery girl-uals of some kind, wouldn`t it have been hilarious if you`d posted a caption on that picture with him saying: "Gentle-girls, our prime objective today is to bring Heather O`Rourke back to life using a combination of witchcraft, sorcery, black magic, and voodoo. If we succeed she`ll be our sex slave for life so thats one hell of an incentive". What a perfect caption that would`ve been.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I think i`d have had a lot of respect for Burroughs if only he`d been rampagingly and exclusively heterosexual all his life instead of a dirty half-woofter.

Jennifer Croissant said...

I always liked the scene in "Drugstore Cowboy" where Burroughs (in a cameo) trashed the ludicrous hypocrisy of Americas drug laws, that was such a great and truthful piece of dialogue.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Grundig is a good make, the Krauts certainly know how to make TV's and tape recorders.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, watching Americas game against the Krauts on June 26th is gonna` be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for you isn`t it, because you`ll be torn between Uncle Adolf and Uncle Sam. Me, i`ll just be watching "Poltergeist III" as usual.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

What makes the Krauts so difficult to beat is that they`re the only country in the world that looks upon soccer as a truly heterosexual sport, where-as everywhere else its regarded as a game for queers.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

America has 5 great players and 6 good players, if they all play at the peak of their abilitys they could reach the semi-final, but if they dont they`ll be dead and buried after the first round.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Of course first its Ghana on the 16th and Portugal of the 22nd, another two very difficult matches, the American 11 could carve their names into the history books in those two matches, if they play their cards right.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Its gonna be difficult for them to even get second place in that group but if they did they`d then be in a second round match against either Russia or Belgium, and that could be winable. But then it`ll probably be Argentina in the quarter final and that`ll be another very difficult match.

Heather O`Rourke said...

Stop talking to Ty E about The World Cup Jervaise, i want you here with me.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Sorry Heather, i`ll be there in a minute baby, its just that i had to tell Ty E how difficult it is to lift that trophy. Just in case he thought America were going to win it easily.